Monday, 19 March 2012

SHWI loves tea!

I love Tea. No, I really love Tea – so when I heard that Seven Hills WI had invited Kirsty from Teabox Online to our March meeting I was over the moon.

Tea for me is the elixir of life itself – without a hot (oversized) mug of Yorkshire’s finest brew in the morning I am incapable of being a useful member of society. It’s a drink for all seasons – warming in Winter, and thirst quenching in Summer. And so many different varieties! I cannot remember a time that I have ever turned a cup of tea down, often rushing to finish the one I have to accept happily a fresh brew – me and my Dad share the same love of tea and have the kettle on constantly when I visit!

But – back to the meeting...Kirsty; accompanied by her Mum and Tea making assistant extraordinaire; Ann – arrived at March’s meeting to a flurry of activity – an excited hum around the room as the throng of ladies caught up on the last month’s news.

Highlights from News and Views – and an exciting up date on out Pot painting plans for May were delivered.
Exciting times ahead for SHWI include our Fantastic Cookbook – featuring the best of the SHWI baking skills and accompaniments too! The sad news that the Denman weekend in May was fully booked was balanced by the joy of another announced for December. After a short interval including a number of members being interviewed by Mark Ansell of BBC Radio Sheffield we gathered for the main event.

Kirsty began with an introduction to her business. Started in 2010 by tea lover Kirsty Munro, Tea Box is a loose leaf tea business based in Sheffield. The aim is to constantly evolve their tea offering, embracing traditional tea tasting values as well as innovative ‘outside the box’ flavours and combinations. Quality is of the utmost importance to them and to ensure the highest standards, all of the tea is packed and blended by hand.

We learned that Tea had been drunk in Britain for over 350 years, however according to legend, Tea was first discovered by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2737 BC. Tea was popularised in Britain following the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza – the Kate Middleton of her day – who as a Portuguese Princess was partial to a cuppa and very soon the middle and upper classes took to quaffing the fashionable import to keep up with the Royal trend.

Kirsty explained that very much like wine – all Tea comes from the same core ingredient – the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant, an evergreen, tropical plant from the Camellia family. The tea plants are cultivated for easy plucking at around 1 metre high – however if left to their own devices they would be quite a lot taller.

The tea leaves are then taken through a different process depending on the type of tea required. For the delicately flavoured white tea – the leaves are simply dried then steamed. For the robust flavours of Black tea the leaves are dried, rolled, fermented, left to oxidise and fired to create the dark tannin rich tea that we are more familiar with.

With introductions complete the tasting began.

The first tea, the beautifully named, Chinese Silver Needle – clear with fine silvery flecks, little to no aroma but a lovely delicate tea taste.

The second, An Oolong Tea – which is dried, bruised, dried, and pan fired – unfortunately never made it to our table. But after a sniff of the wet leaves (lovely!) you could pick up a much stronger smell.

The Third, a Green Tea, named Chinese Gunpowder for its dark coloured appearance, had a slightly seaweedy after taste! It reminded me of sushi – and would probably make a nice accompaniment to it.

Fourth – a first flush Darjeeling from India – the first flush means that it is the first crop from a new plant – and is often called the Champage of Tea. A much more rich traditional tea taste from this and quite dry.

Fifth – a bright pink number, Strawberry Punch – an infusion – that contains no tea, but a hand blend of hibiscus, rosehip and strawberry pieces amongst other things. Lovely and fruity and when held on the tongue really revealed its full flavour.

Finally – a mystery tea. An expectant hum grew as the tea was handed round. A nod to check all had the opportunity to taste. And Boom – the code word of Sausages was shouted...by me!! With assistance from my table mates Hannah and Stella we had deduced the flavour of the infusion. Rhubarb and Custard – I confidently announced – and we were right! And the prize – a beautiful hand crafted badge with a teapot motif which Stella took, a Teabox mug for Hannah and a sample of the mystery tea for me.

What a fantastic evening – and I finally won something!

Excited about next month and our ‘baked goods’ pot luck supper and cookbook taster – along with the Pampered Chef party …. Now … where’s my cheque book?!

Much love,

Sarah, Webmistress x

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